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Mary Mastroeni

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9 Ways to Balance Busy Schedules and Healthy Family Meals

October 20, 2011 6:06 pm

Family meals lead to healthier, more successful children, but finding time to eat together can be a balancing act for many families. Last week, 15 registered dietitians and parenting bloggers from the United States, Canada and New Zealand shared their tips, tricks and motivations for making time to have balanced meals with their families during the Balancing Act Blog Carnival, part of the Eat Better, Eat Together family meal campaign and blog series from Dairy Council of California. Here are the top 10 big ideas they shared, from their families to yours. 

1. Planning family meals ahead of time is essential; develop systems that make the purchasing, preparing and partaking easier.
2. Keep it simple. Family meals don't have to be elaborate to be healthy and effective. Come up with easy ways to balance your meals with simple vegetable side dishes or fruit and yogurt desserts.
3. Have healthy food on hand and eat from your freezer or pantry on busy weeknights. Prepare double batches of food when you're less rushed so you can cook once, eat twice.
4. The family meal does not have to be dinner; breakfast or lunch may work better in some households.
5. Toughen up. Prepare one meal for the whole family to enjoy. Include all five food groups and everyone should be able to find something they'll want to eat.
6. Turn off technology and tune into each other. Make conversation the focus of family meals, but keep it light. The dinner table is not the place for discipline.
7. Share the work. Enlist help from the family to plan shopping lists, make lunches, set the table, pour the milk and clean up.
8. Eating as a family is truly comforting for toddlers, teens and adults. Family meals can become a cherished tradition for the whole family.
9. Dump the guilt. Family meals may not happen every day, and that's OK. Make the most of your family meals when they occur.

For more information, visit www.MealsMatter.org.

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Costume Concerns: Decorative Contact Lenses Can Do Big Damage

October 20, 2011 6:06 pm

Wouldn’t it be cool to have Twilight vampire eyes for Halloween? Or deep violet eyes to match your purple sweater? How about your favorite sports team’s logo on your eyes just for fun? 

You can have all of these looks with decorative contact lenses (also called fashion contact lenses or color contact lenses, among other names). These lenses don’t correct vision—they just change the appearance of the eye. 

But before buying decorative lenses, here’s what you should know:
• They are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise. They are medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Places that advertise them as cosmetics or sell them without a prescription are breaking the law.
• They are not “one size fits all.” An eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) must measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how your eye responds to contact lens wear. A poor fit can cause serious eye damage, including
o scratches on the cornea (the top layer of your eyeball)
o corneal infection (an ulcer on the cornea)
o conjunctivitis (pink eye)
o decreased vision
o blindness
• Places that sell decorative lenses without a prescription may give you few or no instructions on how to clean and care for your lenses.
Failure to use the proper solution to keep contact lenses clean and moist can lead to infections, says Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an optometrist at FDA. “Bacterial infections can be extremely rapid, result in corneal ulcers, and cause blindness—sometimes within as little as 24 hours if not diagnosed and treated promptly.”
“The problem isn’t with the decorative contacts themselves,” adds Lepri. “It’s the way people use them improperly—without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care.” 

Where Not to Buy Contact Lenses 

FDA is aware that many places illegally sell decorative contact lenses to consumers without valid prescriptions for as little as $20.
You should never buy lenses from:
• street vendors
• salons or beauty supply stores
• boutiques
• flea markets
• novelty stores
• Halloween stores
• record or video stores
• convenience stores
• beach shops
• Internet (unless the site requires a prescription)
These are not authorized distributors of contact lenses, which are prescription devices by federal law. 

How to Buy Decorative Contact Lenses Safely 

• Get an eye exam from a licensed eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist), even if you feel your vision is perfect.
• Get a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and an expiration date. But don’t expect your eye doctor to prescribe anime, or circle, lenses. These bigger-than-normal lenses that give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look have not been approved by FDA.
• Whether you go in person or shop online, buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription.
• Follow directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses, and visit your eye doctor for follow-up eye exams.
• See your eye doctor right away if you have signs of possible eye infection:
o redness
o eye pain that doesn’t go away after a short time
o decrease in vision 

For more information, visit www.fda.gov.

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Word of the Day

October 20, 2011 6:06 pm

Master deed. Document that converts a parcel of land into a condominium subdivision.

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Question of the Day

October 20, 2011 6:06 pm

Q: Where can I get a mortgage?

A
: You can get a home loan from several different sources—a credit union, commercial bank, mortgage company, finance company, government agency, thrift (which includes savings banks and savings & loan associations), mortgage broker, and even the seller.

Note, however, that many lenders have tightened their credit standards in light of increasing foreclosures and higher delinquency rates. Begin your search by calling at least half a dozen lenders to inquire about the types of financing available, current rates on each loan type, loan origination fees and number of points, other loan features and their credit requirements for borrowers.

Once you actually apply for a mortgage, the lender will pull a recent copy of your credit report. That inquiry and any and all others are recorded and become a part of your credit file. Normally, several inquiries during a short period are viewed negatively, as a sign you are trying to open several new accounts. Such a move lowers your credit scores; and lower credit scores mean you will be offered a higher mortgage interest rate.

However, there is a caveat. Credit scoring software generally detect that you are shopping for a single mortgage, if you shop within a short, 30-day window. So multiple inquires pulled roughly within this time frame will only count as one inquiry and should not affect your FICO, or credit, score.

Checking your own score also will not lower your credit score.

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Fall Garden Hints to Help Prepare for Winter and a Colorful Spring

October 19, 2011 6:06 pm

Fall is a surprisingly active time in the garden. Winter is coming, and attending to a few strategic garden tasks can prepare the garden to weather the winter weather and ensure a colorful spring. Here are some pertinent seasonal gardening tips from www.preen.com. 

• For most of the country, October through November is flower bulb planting season. Spring favorites such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths need to be planted in fall to bloom in spring. Ideally, plant about six weeks before the ground freezes hard in your area.
• Fall is an excellent time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. However, if a particular plant is only borderline hardy in your area, best wait for spring.
• If you have tender summer bulbs, it’s decision time. You can either treat them as annuals and toss them or leave them to die back. Or you can dig them and store them for the winter for replanting in spring.
• Harvest pumpkins and winter squash before frost, when their rinds are hard and fully colored. Store in a cool location until ready to use.
• Harvest mature, green tomatoes before frost and ripen indoors in the dark.
• Asparagus top growth should not be removed until foliage yellows. Let foliage stand over winter to collect snow for insulation and moisture.
• Strawberry plants need protection from winter extremes. Apply winter protection when plants are dormant but before temperatures drop below 20 degrees.
• Protect shrubs near roadways from the spray of salt, water and ice with burlap, plastic tarp or other material.
• Erect barriers around woody plants and trees if foraging rabbits, rodents or deer are a problem. Metal mesh (1/4-inch) hardware cloth is good for this. Pull mulch away from trunks to discourage rodents from making winter homes there.
• Spray evergreens, including newly planted ones, with an antidesiccant when temperature is above 40 degrees F. These products protect plants from drying out rom winter cold and wind exposure.
• Mound soil around rose grafts for winter protection.
• When frost begins to turn perennial foliage brown it’s time to trim them back. Leave mums, sedum, and ornamental grasses alone. These look pretty in winter. Also leave coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and other plants with seeds as food for birds. 

For more information on gardening and landscaping visit http://www.preen.com.

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Simple Steps for Staying Warm and Saving Money this Winter

October 19, 2011 6:06 pm

As seasons change and winter weather looms ahead, homeowners throughout the nation are bracing themselves for frigid conditions. With bitter cold temperatures and above-average snowfall predicted for some areas of the country this year, many people are concerned about keeping their homes warm and comfortable without spending a fortune on heating bills. There are several simple steps you can take to keep energy bills low throughout the season, starting with an annual assessment to ensure that your heating system is operating properly and efficiently before the harsh winter weather hits. 

Start the Season with Energy Savings 

For a smart start to combating winter weather, homeowners should have their heating systems inspected annually by a Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) professional. When selecting a local contractor, it's essential to shop around because not all HVACR technicians offer the same level of expertise. 

Keep Heating Bills Low as Temperatures Drop 

Once you've confirmed that your heating system is running at peak performance for optimal efficiency, there are several easy ways you can keep energy bills to a minimum:
• Clean your heating filters. Check them every couple of weeks and change them at least twice in the season, or as directed by the manufacturer.
• Check and maintain your insulation. Improperly insulated walls, floors, attics, basements and crawlspaces drain away heat and can lead to moisture imbalance. Adding weather stripping and caulk around windows and doors can also go a long way toward improving your home's insulation.
• Turn down your thermostat. Keeping your thermostat five degrees cooler can lower your heating bills without affecting your home's comfort.
• Install a programmable thermostat and adjust the settings to reduce the temperature when you're not at home, such as during the work day.
• Clean the furnace area. Don't keep chemicals or cleaning products near your heater, and don't store anything next to it that could impede ventilation.
• Keep vents and returns free of obstructions. Don't lay carpet over vents, place furniture over or in front of them, or obstruct the flow of air.
• Install a humidifier. Humidity in summer makes you feel hotter, and the same is true in winter since dry air feels cooler than moist air. A simple humidifier may make the home feel five degrees warmer than a home with dry air.

As homeowners continue to adopt green, eco-friendly heating systems, it's important to realize that even the highest efficiency equipment can waste money and energy if it's not properly maintained. 

For more information, visit www.HVACRAdvice.com.

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Painting a Nursery? Tips, Trends and Ideas

October 19, 2011 6:06 pm

One of the most exciting design and decorating experiences a couple can have is preparing a room for a newborn. Dunn-Edwards, one of the Southwest's leading manufacturers of premium paint, has compiled a wealth of ideas and inspiration for designing and painting a nursery—for both DIYs and those hiring a professional painting contractor. 

The first step is to decide if the nursery will have a theme or simply a mix of colors and details you like, points out Sara McLean, color expert at Dunn-Edwards. "Some current trends in nurseries include modern baby chic, vintage nostalgia, Bohemian, school themes such as science and tech, and fun twists on nature including beach and woodland themes," she says. "Or even opting for a traditional theme, like nautical, carousel or cowboy, you can add your own sense of playfulness, creativity or whimsy." 

The color palette is the next step, thinking beyond just pink or blue. McLean says that the tradition of using blue in a boy's nursery has evolved into combinations of blue—particularly turquoise—with other colors such as red, green and orange. Pink for girls has evolved into fuchsia tones with elements of aquamarine, lilac, white and orange. In fact, aqua and orange have become popular choices for both boys and girls. "There is a new boldness in the way colors are combined in the nursery—pink and purple with green or blue and yellow with green, for example," she says. Striped ceilings can help stimulate the room and a touch or slight accent of black is trendy right now, to add a little sophistication. 

Today's baby rooms include bold and brightly colored carpets, wall decals, maps, figurines and "monster dolls" that are so ugly, they're cute; owls and other woodland critters; and elephants. "Be sure to keep an open mind and eye out for items and styles that can make your nursery unique," she adds.

When decorating a nursery, it's important to use non-toxic products—from the paint to the rugs, to the furniture. Opt for biodegradable timber and certified formaldehyde-free furniture, and take special care with any antique baby furniture to sure its finish and/or underlining paints and varnishes are safe before use. 

For more tips and ideas for decorating a baby's room, visit http://www.dunnedwards.com

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The 10 Best Places to Retire in 2012

October 19, 2011 6:06 pm

U.S. News worked with Onboard Informatics, a premier data services company for top tier organizations in real estate, media, and technology, to create a list of great places to retire in 10 key categories.

"Everybody's got their own idea of the best place to live," says Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, "so we've created tools to make the search fun and useful. There are some great and unexpected choices." 

Many of the categories focus on how to achieve the retirement lifestyle you want on a fixed income, such as the best place for water views on a budget (Traverse City, Michigan), an affordable mountain town for retirees (Boone, North Carolina), and the best place to find affordable housing (Port Charlotte, Florida). We also recognize Pittsburgh as a place that provides a great mix of affordability and amenities for retirees. 

This list also includes a place with pleasant weather year-round (Flagstaff, Arizona), a locale with unique recreation and cultural opportunities to explore (Santa Fe, New Mexico), and a college town that is also friendly to retirees (Ithaca, New York). Retirement is a period of life in which many people reinvent themselves, so we've included a great place to launch a second career (Lincoln, Nebraska) or form a new relationship in a city with plenty of single people age 55 and older (Pittsfield, Massachusetts). 

The U.S. News Best Places to Retire search tool provides extensive information for consumers considering relocating in retirement. The interactive search tool can help users find locations that best fit their individual lifestyles. Visitors can examine and sort through economic and quality-of-life data, such as housing prices, proximity to hospitals, and even the average temperature, to find a locale that best meets their needs. 

The cities honored as The 10 Best Places to Retire in 2012 are:
Pleasant year-round weather: Flagstaff, Ariz.
Affordable mountain town: Boone, N.C.
Water views on a budget: Traverse City, Mich.
Greenest place to retire: Walnut Creek, Calif.
A college town for retirees: Ithaca, N.Y.
Place to launch a second career: Lincoln, Neb.
Best mix of affordability and amenities: Pittsburgh
Best place for affordable housing: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Best place for single retirees: Pittsfield, Mass.
Best place for recreation and culture: Santa Fe 

For more information, visit http://usnews.com/retire.

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Word of the Day

October 19, 2011 6:06 pm

Marketable title. Good and clear title that is free from reasonable doubt as to who the owner is.

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Question of the Day

October 19, 2011 6:06 pm

Q: How do I qualify for a home loan?

A: Your real estate agent has information on lender loan requirements and will be able to calculate a rough monthly figure you can afford based on the maximum monthly payment for the loan, taxes, insurance, and any type of maintenance fees. This pre-purchase evaluation by the agent can save you a lot of time spent looking at properties you cannot afford.

Lenders also routinely calculate what you can afford and can pre-qualify you for a loan even before you begin your home search. This way, you know exactly how much you can afford to buy.

Lenders generally stipulate that you spend no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income on a mortgage payment or 36 percent on total debts.

Ultimately, the price you can afford to pay for a home will also depend on other factors besides your gross income and outstanding debts. They include the amount of cash you have available for the down payment, your credit history, current interest rates, closing costs and cash reserves required by the lender, and the type of mortgage you select.

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